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Is Online Preschool a Good Enough Alternative for Young Kids?

July 10, 2019
Kipp Bentley
Center for Digital Education

To the surprise of many, online preschool not only exists, it’s expanding. Thanks to some states’ desire to offer such programs to children with limited or no opportunities to attend traditional preschool programs, “online preschool” and “virtual kindergarten readiness” are getting lots of attention.

Quality school-based early learning classes are understood to be an important factor in students’ ongoing academic success, but the lack of such opportunities is very real for many kids. To address that need, Waterford, a digital curriculum company, with funding support from the Utah state Legislature, created UPSTART in 2009 and began offering the virtual program to underserved Utah children as an online alternative for preschool. Since then, thanks to both public and private funding, UPSTART has expanded to 16 states. In some states, Internet access and a laptop are provided to the families of qualifying children.

The UPSTART initiative has been hailed by some as a valid age-appropriate way to advance young children’s school readiness. But it’s also widely criticized by early learning experts and advocates who contend the program is pushing young kids into computer-based learning programs at too early an age.